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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Lengthy wait to help burdened taxpayers
Four for two in Holmes Beach election
Four people are running for the two seats up for election Nov. 2 on the Holmes Beach City Commission. Incumbents Sandy Haas-Martens and Roger Lutz are joined by former mayor and commissioner Pat Geyer and political newcomer David Zaccagnino in the race.

State Senator Mike Bennett and Rep. Bill Galvano met with more than 50 Island residents Monday night to give an update on legislative issues both future and present.

But the Islanders were more concerned about what the legislators could do immediately to ease their tax burden, which is forcing many of them to consider selling their businesses or non-homesteaded property to real estate developers (The Islander, Oct. 13, 20, Sept. 29, 15).

Unfortunately, said Galvano, there's not much the state legislature can do in the near future and even a constitutional amendment to change the way Florida counties assess property might be a tough task.

"I think it would be difficult" because the problem is unique to Florida barrier islands faced with ever-increasing taxes, he said. Selling the idea of changing the constitution to big-city dwellers might be a problem.

And the legislature can't pass a law that will solve the problem. "We just don't have a magic formula for you," Galvano told the dismayed taxpayers.

The real villain, said Bennett, is the Save Our Homes amendment, which was adopted a few years ago. While this limited homesteaded properties to a maximum 3-percent tax increase annually, the state and its counties "still had a need for services, so taxes had to come from the business community" or non-resident property owner.

Not fair, cried the business and property owners, many of whom have formed the Coalition Against Runaway Taxes as the basis for a grass-roots organization to get relief from rising taxes, before the Island is left looking like one giant condominium.

Maybe, said Bennett. But the "only fair tax is the one the other guy pays." There's really no fair system to solve the problem, he said.

Still, there could be some legislative relief a few years down the road, said Galvano. A legislative committee will meet in 2007, charged with looking at ways to change the current tax system in Florida and the way Florida spends its money. It will look at all the issues and suggestions, he noted, but remember the tax system can't be changed until there's a system to replace the revenue.

"But we do need to hear arguments and suggestions," said Bennett, and both urged those attending the meeting and CART members to send them those suggestions. "This is your time for input."

Moderator Don Schroder, who is also one of the CART organizers, said those in favor of tax assessment reform have two years to get something to the legislators.

One issue Galvano, an attorney, said that could be investigated is "what is highest and best use" of a property under the fair market assessment procedure used by tax appraisers in Florida. Specifically, the appraiser cannot state that condominiums are the best use of the property if condos are not permitted in that zoning district.

"It's 'what is reasonably fair and legally permissible'" for assessment, he said.

Schroder said CART is planning another organizational meeting Nov. 4 and that issue will be studied and addressed by then.

Two years just to start discussions. Some property owners such as Sabine Musil-Buehler of Haley's Motel in Holmes Beach, were concerned that by 2007, taxes will have risen so high she and other "mom and pop" business operators won't be able to pay their tax bill and will already have sold out to the condo developers.